Our day began early, as that is when the wind and weather is the most gentle for hot air ballooning. My wife, Cindy, and I arrived at Chatfield State Park at 5:30 a.m. on a mild and beautiful July morning. The winds were slight, the skies brushed with a few wisps of clouds and the air filled with tiny little gnats. Those critters were a bit bothersome, but a quick round of OFF bug spray took care of the issue.
Our balloon pilot, Ken Tadolini of Rocky Mountain Hot Air arrived in his van filled with all the trappings of balloon flight, from the basket to the Outlaw -- Ken's name for his balloon.
It is amazing that you can fit an eight-story balloon into the back of a van! Ken and his ground crew quickly began the task of rolling out the balloon, filling it first with cool air, just to get all the balloon material positioned properly. Once that was done, Ken lit the big propane burners, sending a 10-foot flame roaring into the balloon. As the hot air filled the balloon envelope, the Outlaw slowly began to rise into the sky. Fortunately, Ken had anchored the balloon to his van, so the Outlaw would not take flight before we were ready!
Ken is a very skilled pilot and went methodically through his pre-flight check, all the while explaining the history of ballooning, of his balloon and of his passion for flight. Cindy and I were ready to go, joined by 7NEWS photojournalist Jim Weis. The four us us cast off the lines and watched as the ground slipped farther away.
Ken is a bit of a practical joker and gave Cindy a thrill and a fright as he skimmed the top of a nearby 100-year-old cottonwood tree, grabbing a bouquet of leaves from the very top. As we ascended over Chatfield Reservoir it was amazing how quiet balloon flight really is. We could literally talk to the fishermen in the boats several hundred feet below us. As the balloon floats along with the wind currents, the only noise besides the birds and the distant traffic is the occasional roar of the propane burner.
While Ken and Cindy watched and talked, Jim and I had to shoot some footage for the upcoming Mike Nelson's Colorado special. Jim did a great job working the camera and getting some terrific pictures, especially given the tight quarters in the basket.
As we floated along, Ken kept a close watch on altitude, making sure that we did not lose too much too fast! As the morning warmed, the amount of lift we have gets limited. It is actually easier to fly a hot air balloon on a really cold morning as the chilly atmosphere is so dense that the hot air in the balloon really pops you into the air!
Ken needed to time his burst of flame from the burner to keep us aloft and at the right altitude to catch the wind, which is, of course, how you steer!
After an hour that really went too fast, it was time to land -- a tricky part of the whole affair! Ken advised that the basket will touch the ground and drag, then pop back into the air a bit and hit the ground again. We needed to be ready for a bump, keep the knees bent and hang on! In fact, the landing that Ken produced was about as hard as hopping out of bed! We did touch down and drag for a few feet, but it was really smooth and not the least bit scary.
The ground crew caught up with us a mere mile away from where we took off, a nice bit of flying for sure! We all helped to deflate the Outlaw, carefully rolling the fabric as to not tear it. After about 40 minutes, everything was packed back into Ken's van and we headed back to our cars.
Ken pinned Cindy, Jim and I with our official Outlaw balloon pins. Then there were pictures, hugs, handshakes and we ended the whole event in the classic fashion, toasting a glass of champagne! After all, ballooning was invented by the French!